Monday, January 16, 2017

La La Land

Photo: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, watching a movie and each other, in La-La Land. From, just click here. The photo below is from the same page.

Disclaimer: Here there be spoilers. Consider yourself forewarned. If you want to see the movie, you might want to wait to read this.

My better half and I saw La-La Land recently, mostly because she's seen some "guy films" recently and I owed her one. She said I like depressing, serious films, so I should see this movie, which she said would be a happy musical. I offered the opinion that she would be surprised, that I had a feeling that all would not be well. Unfortunately, I was right about this.

It is a very good musical about going for your dreams--and the price you have to pay. There ain't nothin' free in this world, right? The movie's buzz has overplayed the feel-good vibe it sometimes has, and has vastly underplayed the sad ending, when both accomplish their dreams, but realize, perhaps, that they aren't completely happy. (Though, at the end, she seems happier than he does. But, I have to ask, perhaps in ignorance: If you're crazy about everything jazz, can you be happy? What draws people to a music genre that sounds, to me [again, perhaps in my ignorance], as unhappy and sad?) This note of sadness is especially surprising for Mia--Emma Stone's character--who has a husband and child at that point, but who looks back, wistfully, at the guy she left behind. The closing scenes, where Ryan Gosling's character plays in his head the emotions and relationship with Mia that might have been--and that would have been in the feel-good musical romances of MGM's past, which La-La Land respectfully emulates--are very touching and very sad. I walked out of the theater even more affected and sad than I thought I'd be.

When Gosling's Sebastian convinces Stone's Mia to go back and try out for a movie role she'd been singled out for--and when one of the people at the audition mentions it'll be a 3-4 month shoot in Paris (this is actually on the short side of many shoots)--I could see how the stars were aligning. And the irony being set up: If he doesn't convince her to go to the audition, she doesn't get the role. If she doesn't get the role, she doesn't go to Paris and perhaps they don't permanently break up. He knows this, as he'd previously been on the road a lot and she had suffered for it. (Though, to be fair, he'd stayed loyal and returned as happily and as often as he could to her.) So by convincing her to go for her dreams, he's showing that he loves her. And so because he loves her, he loses her. Such is life, especially if you live in La-La Land, figuratively and literally. (You know, how dreamers just think la-la-la-la-la and live in La-La Land? Get it? [My father used to say that to me all the time, usually when I was writing.] I had to explain that to someone recently, about what that means, and that it's not just another nickname for Los Angeles.)

I really appreciated the theme of going for your dreams, despite the immense rejection and obstacles that will come your way. I'm the only artist (I write stories and novels and tons of other things) and dreamer I know, so it's very frustrating to share my sadness and despair in the face of rejection. I don't know anyone else that well who can understand what it feels like to spend 20 years writing a novel that doesn't sell. And getting scammed when you're 21 by an "agent." (I was very heart-warmed to see that Gosling's character had also been scammed.) Nobody I know can relate.

I haven't been as brave as La-La Land's characters. I haven't gone all-out without a safety net. I've got a great career and benefits now, and I write when I can. I feel I'm too safe, too soft, to content and satisfied with my measly sales. But that all could've been different in my early-20s, when I was writing and floundering, and nobody was feeling me. Maybe I wouldn't have stopped writing for 9 years if I'd had someone then to talk to, to understand. I'd be a published novelist now with those 9 non-writing years back. (I know now that it's more my fault for letting the scam agent stop me than it was the scammer's for scamming me.) I didn't have a Mia at that time, or a Sebastian to come get me, to have confidence in me to keep me going.

But I digress. I think. Maybe not, for the message of the movie is to keep going, to try to achieve your dreams. And you'll have to accept the consequences as well. The ending of this movie reminded me of the ending to a depressing folksy song from the 70s. The end refrain mentions that "she wanted to be an actress / and I wanted to learn to fly." (Please leave a comment if you know the title.) Both in the song achieve their dreams, sort of: She's an unhappy trophy wife and he's an unhappy cabbie. She's an actress, because she has to act happy, and act like she loves her husband and her life. He has learned to fly, but as the end of the song goes: "I fly / so high / when I'm stoned." Well, La-La Land's characters aren't stoned (and let's not fall back on a stereotype about jazz musicians and drugs), but they aren't exactly happy, either. Not. At. All.

So go see this movie, but don't believe all the overhyped whimsy of this film. There is some, but I'm here to tell ya, this movie, in a way, is more depressing to me than the serious, depressing films I'm accused of preferring.

Do I really believe this movie is as sad as, say, Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan?

Yup. Yes I do.


  1. Movies are my escape. When I look back on my life I can tell you what I do was doing based on the movies that were released that year. Each of those favorite movies I have made a connection with. That's what I look for. I want to be touched in some way I can relate to. I want to put myself in the situation of the characters I'm watching on screen and ask myself how I would have handled things differently? That's what I look for when I pay $9 to see a movie. I can do that with a film like Ordinary People. I can't do that with a film like Full Metal Jacket or Star Wars. Those movies, while fascinating and sometimes entertaining, are fantasy. War is real, but it could never happen to me. I was never in Vietnam. I was never in the army. I was never in outer space. I never will be. Will I meet some aspiring jazz artist? Maybe. Maybe I'll meet an aspiring writer. While I watched La La Land I continued to ponder would I have left someone amazing like Sebastian behind to follow my dream in another country? I can't exactly relate to Mia since I don't share her enthusiasm for acting, but I can connect with someone drifting away and leading a separate life. Those are the movies that make me excited and get me thinking. I'm certainly not denying it's sad ending, but in a movie that as romanticized as this I'm surprised it had the guts to not make it happily ever after. It's positive message of pursuing your dream still stands strong despite the ultimate sacrifice. Some people drink. I like to watch sad movies and listen to sad songs. Whatever gets you through the moment!

    The song you are referring to is Taxi by Harry Chapin. Surprisingly it's not one I am familiar with. But I gave it a listen to on YouTube.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Diane. This is a good description of why you like the movies that you do. Glad to know another mnovie lover!